After Glasgow: The Good, the Bad, and the Hopeful

Friday, November 19, 2021
Yves Herman, Reuters

Professor of Strategy, China Maritime Studies Institute, U.S. Naval War College; Visiting Scholar, Harvard Fairbank Center; CFR Member

David M. Rubenstein Senior Fellow for Energy and the Environment, Council on Foreign Relations; Author, The Fight for Climate After COVID-19@Alice_C_Hill

Lead, Climate and Environment, Bloomberg Philanthropies 


President Emerita, Natural Resources Defense Council; CFR Member

Our panelists review the recent COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, including climate action since the Paris Accords and how governments and businesses can step up to address the complex challenges of climate change and adaptation. 

BEINECKE: Thank you. Well, welcome, everyone, to today’s Council on Foreign Relations meeting, “After Glasgow: The Good, the Bad, and the Hopeful. I’m Frances Beinecke, president emerita of the Natural Resources Defense Council, and will be presiding over today’s session.

Today we have the great fortune of hearing from three individuals who are very knowledgeable on their process and who will share their observations. First, Alice Hill, the David Rubenstein senior fellow on energy and the environment here at the Council on Foreign Relations, and the author of the recently released The Fight for Climate After COVID-19. Antha Williams, the lead at the Blomberg Foundation on climate and energy. And we hope to soon be joined by Andrew Erickson, professor of strategy at the China Maritime Institute of the U.S. Naval War College. He’s having a little trouble with the technology, so hopefully we will see him soon.

But let’s dive right in. Both Antha and Alice were at COP, so they’re going to have a strong perspective on what happened there. More than thirty thousand people went to Glasgow with the goal of reaching agreement on strategies that would limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees centigrade and achieve net zero emissions by 2050. The U.N. process requires consensus of the 197 countries participating. Although I think there’s widespread agreement that the goal was not achieved there, it still seems to be alive. And we’ll hear their perspectives on this.

So, first, let’s start with the positive. Alice, over to you. To each of you, what was the most significant outcome from your point of view at this COP that will move us forward?

HILL: For me, the most significant outcome is that 197 nations did reach agreement on what is known as the Glasgow Climate Pact. And that pact calls for continuing to try to keep temperature rise to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial times. It also sets an expectation that next year in Cairo nations will come back with greater ambition. So the fact that we did reach consensus on a document is historic, in my opinion, given all the naysayers as we headed towards COP earlier this year.

BEINECKE: Antha, what’s your view on that?

WILLIAMS: Well, I agree with Alice’s point that it was a very significant development to get agreement from 197 nations, and to achieve the very basic goal of keeping 1.5 degrees alive, which I think most climate stakeholders agreed was the goal. You know, I think in the end we ended up with a result that we thought was the most likely, which was a bit of a middling scenario. It keeps Paris alive, keeps us moving in the right direction, but doesn’t move quickly enough.

I would also just say, I think one of the most significant commitments that we saw emerging in Glasgow was from India, of course one of the world’s largest emitters, but who committed to make some really major changes by 2030. So under that 2030 commitment, India will get 50 percent of its energy from renewable sources and expand its non-fossil energy capacity to five hundred gigawatts. So I think even though target date for net zero, by 2070, is later than many countries, these really ambitious 2030 targets were impressive. And I think it’s notable that some of that happened, you know, as part of the COP process. But it was also kind of bringing in these country commitments and nonstate commitments as well and using the momentum to get some of those things done.

BEINECKE: Great. Thank you.

So welcome, Andrew. Good to see you. We’re just having initial reflections about your view about the outcome of the COP. How did you view how—what was achieved there, and how—what the future holds?

ERICKSON: Well, I wish I could be more optimistic. And it’s certainly an honor to join everybody here and share some personal views and reactions. First of all, I think unfortunately for Xi Jinping what we saw was a cop out. There are various reasons why he may have chosen not to travel to the summit, but there’s a lot more that he could have done to support it the way President Biden did. So I was deeply disappointed not to see him addressing it directly via the many in-person—or, virtual technological means that we have. Second of all, I was very disappointed to see China do a power move to protect coal at the very end. Coal is really one of the most critical factors in all this. And I think that showed that when push comes to shove, China will not make the big moves, under Xi, that we need to see.

And actually, the talk is the better part of what China under Xi is doing. What’s more concerning are the actions, and the lack thereof. China is opening new coal mines, and China is opening new coal plants with expensive technologies that suggest a multidecade investment. These are not things that China is prepared to close anytime soon. So I see a continued PRC insistence on coal under Xi. And to me, that’s greatly disappointing and it threatens to drown out all the other sincere efforts and progress that we’re hearing about. I think until that’s addressed a concrete way, we’re not going to be on the trajectory that we need to be for the planet.

BEINECKE: Andrew, do you want to just comment on the China-U.S. announcement that was made there, with their negotiator, Xie, and Secretary Kerry? What was the significance of that?

ERICKSON: Well, again, I’m not—I’m not privy to all the details, but I think the key is not what China is saying or what a fairly nebulous, in my personal view, public statement is saying. I’m concerned about what is actually happening. And again, I don’t—I don’t see any kind of a binding commitment to draw down coal fast enough by China. And that is one of the—that is probably the biggest single factor in all this. Moreover, words aside—and China under Xi has violated a variety of important commitments so I’m not convinced by statements. China’s actual actions in favor of coal that continue are the—are the greatest concern. So while there may be discussion I’m not privy to, but I don’t think it counteracts these larger, structural factors. Those are what need to really be addressed concretely.

BEINECKE: Right. And I just think it’s important to mention, and I’m sure the listeners know this, but China’s emissions are equivalent to the emissions of the EU, U.S. and India combined. So their role here is absolutely pivotal. There’s no more important role than how China addresses this. So thank you for that, Andrew.

So I just want to ask all of you, tens of thousands of activists came to Glasgow. Young people, indigenous people, people from low-lying nations, people from the poorest, most vulnerable nations. They really went to the streets, they demanded action. Their well-known leader Greta Thunberg, you know, said repeatedly: This is just blah, blah, blah, what are you really going to do? And of course, a just transition for these countries depends on finance. It depends on finance from countries, finance from the private sector. So let’s just talk about what happened in Glasgow on finance.

And, Alice, I’d like to start that with you. What did you see? Was the money delivered? Is it going to be delivered? How do we realize the commitments that have been made?

HILL: Well, the money was definitively not delivered. There were some promises made. I think there are two buckets of promises. One is from the financial sector. Mark Carney, who was the former Bank of England governor, also the Bank of Canada, and now he’s an advisor to the United Kingdom, who was hosting the Glasgow summit. And Mark Carney garnered and lassoed 450 financial institutions with $130 trillion worth of assets and got them all to say that they would align their portfolios in accordance with being net zero by 2050. So there is a lot of money that was discussed.

Now, in terms of the developing world, it was pretty paltry what came forward. You know, the U.N. has estimated that in the developing world they will need—already need $70 billion a year to adapt. And of course, adaptation is the steps to prepare for worsening climate change impacts like drought that affects agriculture, hydropower, worsening storms that cause buildings to collapse, flooding, spread disease, extreme heat events which cause deaths and have huge impacts on livelihoods and the health of people. So the developing world has consistently asked for help with adaptation. They’ve had almost nothing to do with creating the climate crisis, and they’ve asked for significant funding.

They also need a lot of funding, by the way, to transition to clean energy. But a focus at the COP was funding for adaptation. And although there was a call in the pact—the Glasgow climate pact—to double financing by 2025 for adaptation, at the end of the day the adaptation fund reached its highest level ever, but it was only at $365 million. And historically adaptation has been starved, really, when it comes to the money that has been provided by the developing world to—the developed world.

The developing world in 2009 promised that they would come forward with $100 billion a year, mobilize that from all sorts of sources. They failed in that goal, probably have come forward with about 80 percent of that. But of that 80 percent, almost all of it has gone to the mitigation or cutting emissions side of climate change. Of course, there are the two sides, adaptation and mitigation. And the developing world really wants a lot of help with adaptation because they don’t have the kind of infrastructure that the developed world has. For example, flood control projects, air conditioning, other things that better protect people in the developing—excuse me—in the developed world.

So that was a big disappointment. There was also a request from the developing world for the funding a loss and damage fund. That would be a recognition that some countries are permanently damaged by climate change. You can think of a small island nation. And we saw the leader of Tuvalu, a Pacific island nation, speaking to the COP from his country in knee-deep water, showing where the land used to be, and now with sea level rise it’s submerged. So there was great hope that there would be a fund to address these permanent losses. Again, in the pact they said that they would have dialogues in the future about the issue, but there was no resolution.

I think this will be a growing issue in the divide between the developed and developing world. In fact, in October the national intelligence—the Director of National Intelligence issued for the first time ever a national intelligence estimate about climate change. And one of the factors that was identified as a high risk to national security was this lack of funding and this division between the developing world and the developed world, and the lack of monetary support to the developing world. And they said by 2030, that would already be a high risk.

I’m sure it will be a recurring theme as we go forward in future meetings, like this COP and COP 27, but it was a disappointment that more progress wasn’t made. And in fact, the climate pact stated it “with deep regret” that the goal have developed countries coming forward with $100 billion a year had not been met. So there’s recognition that things have fallen short. And I think there’s a high bar for everyone to try to find more funding to help these nations cope.

BEINECKE: Great. Thank you.

Antha, over to you. The role of the private sector here. Alice mentioned, you know, Mark Carney’s very robust announcement. But what does that really mean? Lots of companies have agreed to reach net zero. Who’s monitoring them? How do we know that those goals are going to be achieved? What role do they have to play here in our actually achieving our climate goals? Can you just address that?

WILLIAMS: Yeah. Thank you for the question. And I think, to rewind to the beginning, this was a different kind of COP. It felt different on the ground in Glasgow than prior COPs, in that it was designed to be a bit more of an implementation kind of discussion. And so, you know, Boris Johnson and the U.K. government had set up this structure where there was more representation from nonstate actors and the entire COP kicked off, the first two days, with the world leaders’ summit. So you had 130 or 140 heads of state kind of kicking this thing off. In addition, going into the COP, there was a real recognition that there would be an important driver of forward momentum in terms of just the—what’s happening with climate action in the real economy.

And so the U.N. high level climate champions from the United Kingdom and Chile launched a race to zero campaign. That was really designed to sign up more cities, businesses, nonstate actors to net zero commitments. That was hugely successful in the lead-up to COP – getting five thousand businesses and one thousand cities. You know, that all happened in the las six to nine months, that those commitments were made. Now the name of the game is how do you know that those commitments are being made real? How do you actually implement and make sure that we’re driving down emissions at the same that populations and GDPs are going up? And so that’s exactly what needs to happen.

You and Alice mentioned the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero, or GFANZ. As Alice said, that’s more than 450 firms. That’s a big set of folks from across the financial sector who are agreeing to work together on this. But how is that actually going to work? And so this convergence between investors, businesses, cities, subnational regions has a lot of potential to drive real economy transformation. But what does that actually mean? And so I think the work going forward coming out of Glasgow, if you think of Glasgow as the, you know, starting gun, is deepening the integrity, the credibility, as I said, the accountability of those commitments that the private sector already made.

And the last thing I’ll say is during COP26 the U.N. secretary-general announced the establishment of a group to analyze the private sector commitments in reaching net zero emissions. So it’ll be essential for the private sector to publish their detailed plans and report regularly on the progress, as required by the race to zero and by the criteria of this Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero. And Mike Bloomberg at COP did announce he’ll co-chair that with Mark Carney going forward. So it’s an area where we’re deeply invested and engaged.

BEINECKE: That’s great. So just listening to all of you, I mean, there—a lot happened among the countries, but perhaps more happened in the side agreements, in the green zone, the nonofficial zone. So let’s just reflect briefly on the U.N. process. Is it a process that works? Could it have worked better? Is there an alternative to the U.N. to push us forward on reaching our climate goals? So there’s definitely plusses and minuses in this, but it’s a cumbersome process. So just maybe Andrew, starting with you, why don’t you reflect on that, and then go to Alice and Antha?

ERICKSON: Well, thank you. And I think that a lot of the—it’s funny for me to say young folks, but at the ripe old age of forty-two, I guess I can. They’re right to feel left out—let down. And I have a son who’s nearly three years old, and I feel he’s been let down too by this process. I think there’s a lot of goodwill, but it’s not enough. We are not on the right—on the right trajectory here. I believe there is a better way. It’s not that we shouldn’t be having these meetings and discussing, but we should recognize that they’re not sufficient. And I think what we partially see in the COP process is a variety of national leaders who – either through channeling heartfelt, sincere desires of those they represent or cynically virtue-signaling to try to get off the hook, or some combination of both – they’re making promises that are both insufficient, by certain modeling, but also not necessarily on track to being fulfilled.

And the reality is this is a multidecade, major effort that has to be on a firm political and financial footing. And, yes, the developing world needs a lot of help and support. But I don’t—I don’t think heartfelt, endless rounds of exhorting more contributions is actually going to be fulfilled by political leaders, whether or not they answer directly to an electorate, for a variety of reasons. Because ultimately there’s a great concern about economic growth and other factors that affect the quality of life of those citizens of the immediate nation. I think we need something that I think is far stronger and far more effective. I see it as the one Archimedean lever that’s large enough to actually, first of all, move China and the Chinese Communist Party under Xi, and second of all an Archimedean lever that’s big enough to move the world.

And that is some form of carbon pricing and carbon taxation that connects what needs to be done on climate reform with real economic processes, that incentivize innovation and reward those who can find new ways, new technologies that will give us the energy abundance that people demand generally when they have—when they have the option. I think this is critical. Without these kind of market-based efforts to actually tie things to carbon intensity, we are—we are not on track to actually getting there. And I would like to raise one other dimension. I know—I understand there was a panel on this at the COP, but I don’t think it’s nearly factored enough into the equation. It’s right to also talk about the private sector.

Of course the private sector is a dynamic source of philanthropy and innovation and bold initiatives. And it is good that COP was bringing that in and trying to harness that. But we also have to consider what new frontier industrial processes might compromise these important efforts before we even really get off the ground. And the single biggest thing that I would flag is seabed mining. I know there was a blue carbon-related panel, but I don’t think that the risks of seabed mining have sufficiently been factored in. And if we’re talking about the international community getting together, then we have to be looking at what kind of exploration rights does the International Seabed Authority, headquartered in Jamacia, giving? And where might that lead?

And I’ll just close by commending a very eye-opening article in the journal Nature, who’s findings suggest that marine sediments are the largest pool of organic carbon on the planet. And the author—the researchers estimate that the volume is on the order of seven trillion metric tons, which is more than three times the cumulative anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions since 1750. And here again, China appears to be at the forefront of disruption, with 28 percent of the world’s documented disruptive bottom trawling, let alone what may not be documented. So I think we need both international discussions, such as in Glasgow, but we need real carbon taxation and pricing to actually have enough leverage. And if we’re not factoring in the blue carbon aspect and protecting that frontier before it’s disrupted more than we know, I don’t think we’re doing a complete process.

BEINECKE: Right. Thank you, Andrew. That’s important, addressing the oceans. I think that’s probably a growing issue in this whole sphere.

Alice, do you want to address your view of the U.N. process, and also reflect maybe on Andrew’s comment. I think most people in this field agree there should be a price on carbon, but how do you get it?

HILL: Well, you took the words right out of my mouth. Certainly, many people have been working on that issue. There’s no question we have the answers here, but we can’t seem to get to the answers. So in the absence of a credible way forward, just take the United States, we have not been able to get to a carbon tax, many times trying. So what are we going to do? And I think we have to be mindful of what the scientists have told us. The scientists have told us that to avoid catastrophic heating we need to cut our emissions by close to 50 percent by 2030. So will we do that? It seems doubtful based on what’s happening coming out of the COP. But at least we have that process now. We have a guarantee we will meet again. And we have greater public pressure—peer pressure on countries to act.

My response is typically, what is the alternative? I’m a former judge. There is no court here. There’s no court who’s going to come in and say: China, you need to do this or that. And we tried to have an enforcement mechanism. I’m sure many people recall the Kyoto Protocol. We tried to have a legally binding, in terms of what countries needed to do. That failed. In fact, the United States pulled out of it. So we haven’t had a good history of forcing action. As a result, we got this voluntary agreement in Paris, and now we’re working under that voluntary agreement.

Would I wish that we could all agree and come to a consensus and act now? Yes. But I ask, what is the alternative, in the absence of our ability to reach a carbon tax, reach some other form of ageing to adequately price carbon and get to those externality, the harm that’s caused by greenhouse gas emissions. I haven’t seen it. And in the absence of that, I still think that the U.N. process is viable. Not ideal. Lots of question marks. But I wouldn’t say we should throw in the towel.

WILLIAMS: I would just—I just wonder if I could—I could chime in and just say I agree with that.

BEINECKE: Please do.

WILLIAMS: I think, you know, as far as the U.N. COP process goes, for the challenges of these complex, multilateral processes, this is the best we have. It’s a problem that knows no borders, and we have to engage there. You know, I think the other piece is that there is an important—it creates an important mobilizing moment. And I think this secretary-general in particular has been very sharp on a number of key themes around ending coal in wealthy countries by 2030 and the rest of the world by 2040, on ending fossil fuel subsidies, on mobilizing climate finance. And I think those messages have gotten through to the world. And we saw some of these multilateral and nonstate actor commitments behind those themes, I think, as a result of the focus that the COP26 process brought to these issues.

The last thing I just want to mention, because I really agree with what Alice said about the fundamental sort of focus that the last IPCC report brought to this issue. The science has been settled on climate change for quite a long time. But having the stark clarity of the world’s consensus scientific body saying, to get where we need to go, we’ve got to cut emissions in half and we have to stop new fossil fuel production, was very focusing in this process. And, I think, really important.

BEINECKE: Thanks, Antha. I just have another question sort of looking at what actually happened in the blue zone, where the countries negotiated, what happened in the green zone, where lots and lots of side agreements—like this finance agreement that you mentioned—came up. One of the—it seems to me, a significant announcement, and I’d like your comment on it, was the agreement with the U.S., U.K., France, Germany, and the EU to provide literally billions of dollars to South Africa to transition beyond coal. I guess it’s the demonstration project for Africa. It is a lot of money.

Is that sort of the harbinger of the future, that countries will align around specific goals and results, and make their own deal? That we’ll try to get a consensus of the 197 nations, but in other instances we’re going to get a deal on forests, we’re going to deal country-specific, like South Africa, or the very significant methane agreement? So could you just comment on how significant those side agreements are, and whether that’s where we should be putting more attention leading up to Egypt next year? Why don’t I start with you, Andrew? And you have your hand up anyway. So go for it, Andrew. And then Alice, and then Antha, and then we’ll turn to questions from the audience. So, audience, get your questions ready.

ERICKSON: Thank you. I think there is an alternative and there is a better way, at least as a supplement. And I think, unfortunately, we have to reckon with the fact that Xi Jinping clearly does not share the sense—the sense of urgency and the sense of disaster that is widely prevalent in idealistic, Western circles. And the scale that China is emitting at this point threatens to swamp all the other good efforts. We see what China continues to do with coal. We can also see that China is failing to generate alternative stable baseload energy supplies sufficient to significantly draw down that coal, certainly to draw it down fast enough.

What is the alternative, at least part of the alternative? It’s a carbon border adjustment tax. And China remains a heavily export-dependent economy. This is an Archimedean lever big enough to move Xi Jinping, that he actually cares about. And the Biden administration could move forward on a carbon border adjustment tax expeditiously. And this is one great thing we could really work with a lot of strong European partners on. There is great support across Western Europe with our important allies and partners there for this. And it doesn’t require a global consensus to start that.

And we need that leverage. Look at what China is actually doing? A coal binge leading into Glasgow. A power move at the end. And continued moves in favor of coal. Fortunately, there is leverage that we can have. And I hope the administration will act on this.

BEINECKE: Thank you. Alice, your view on the significance of the side agreements, and also if you have a comment on the border adjustment taxes.

HILL: Well, the side agreements, what COP26 showed me is that there’s a growing recognition that we can’t leave this up entirely to the national governments. We heard about cities, subnationals, everyone has a role to play here, civil society. And there’s also recognition that it’s rare to get 197 nations agreeing to anything. So kudos that they got the pact, but we’re going to have all these side agreements to try to move things where we can. And you mentioned the methane. I think it’s underappreciated how significant that is.

The heating—we’ve heated up about 1.1 degrees Celsius since preindustrial times. About 0.5 percent of that is from methane. And methane is shorter-lived. It lasts in the atmosphere for maybe a couple of decades. Carbon’s up there for hundreds of years. But it really heats things up. And so this pledge from 105 nations that was led by the U.S. and the EU says: We’re going to cut methane by 30 percent by 2030. And what that does is it buys us more time to figure out how we’re going to get to cutting our carbon emissions. Huge accomplishment I think in creative thinking, thinking how can we pull in different groups to accomplish discrete goals in the broader goal of keeping us all safe?

And as to the carbon border adjustment, I would just flag that coming out of the G-20 there was an agreement on steel to look at the issue of steel and some kind of tariffs on steel designed to capture some of the concerns about carbon emissions in the steel industry, and to prefer greener steel. So I think we’re seeing movement towards that. Is it broadscale movement in the United States? No. But I think Andrew is right, that is a possible mechanism for us to drive faster action, if we can agree on what those adjustments would look like and then also address any trade concerns there are about that. And those are complex issues, but it’s certainly an issue worthy of pursuit.

BEINECKE: Great. Thank you so much, Alice.

And now I think it’s time—I’d like to invite our members to join the conversation with their questions.

OPERATOR: We will take our first question from Stephen Kass.

Q: Thank you very much. My questions is for Professor Erickson.

If China’s commitment to coal is drowning out everything else that we’re talking about today, what can China actually do to provide the energy it needs to sustain and grow its economy without the additional coal plants?

BEINECKE: Go ahead, Andrew.

ERICKSON: Thank you. I think it’s going to take a broad-based approach and a faster shift to alternatives. Some combination of nuclear, solar, wind, LNG than China’s been doing up to this point. And I think it’s going to take an external economic incentive to fully—to fully effect that shift. Right now, the incentives are severely misaligned. China is abundant in cheap, particularly polluting coal. And officials find that that’s the easiest way to generate temporary local economic growth that they—that they can ride to higher office in a different position. So I think it’s going to take—it’s going to take leverage to disrupt that. It’s going to take more effort in terms of clean coal technologies.

And I think LNG is going to be a significant part of this. Given how much China’s part of this and how severe the problem is, I think we’re going to have to have a hierarchy of concerns about energy sources. I know there’s a lot of heartfelt concern about natural gas, but I think it’s clear that coal is far and away the biggest problem. So I think there needs to be some understanding that LNG is going to be part of—part of that mitigation for some time to come. Thank you.

BEINECKE: Thank you. Teagan, next question.

OPERATOR: We will take our next question from Ken Morse.

Q: This is Ken Morse in Boston, Entrepreneurship Ventures.

I have two questions. The first is, to what extent was nuclear and new nuclear discussed as—in favorable terms? Because, for example, Germany could cut their emissions overnight by restarting their nuclear plants and reduce dependency on Russia at the same time. The second question is, was there any thought that consumers could be asked to vote with their pocketbooks by having labels on products that say how much CO2 was emitted? Because the Chinese products would look much dirtier than their competitors in Best Buy.

BEINECKE: Alice, do you have a response on the nuclear? You were there.

HILL: I was there. I certainly wasn’t in all the rooms at once. I did see nuclear discussed as an alternative energy source going forward. Obviously, there’s some countries that are not interested in nuclear, but I didn’t hear any discussion where nuclear should be banned worldwide, or anything on that level. Lots of discussions of small nuclear reactors. One issue that I think is not appreciated is if we are going to power up these older fleets to bridge us, and we have about 400-some—440 older nuclear plants—none of those plants were built to withstand the kind of events we’re already seeing. And that—without some much greater attention on their risks of flooding, extreme heat, wildfire, that could be a challenge for us. And there’s no plan for that worldwide yet.

And I did not hear any discussion about consumer labeling to identify carbon footprints. Just a little footnote, in the cafeteria and in the other places to eat in the venue, they did put the carbon footprint of whatever your menu choice was. So I thought that was a great idea, and perhaps it’ll be adopted elsewhere.

BEINECKE: Interesting. Antha, anything on nuclear in your goings about, or it wasn’t really on the—not on the agenda? OK. OK, great.

So, you know, one—just to go back and talk a little bit more about the side agreements, one of the very early announcements was made on deforestation, and particularly an agreement to stop deforestation, I think, by 2030, and also particularly to create a fund for indigenous people. And my impression from afar, I was not in Glasgow, was that the concerns of indigenous people got a much higher—were a much higher profile, got more attention at this COP. Back to the earlier comment of—that’s a big commitment. I think every COP has made commitments on deforestation. None have actually been realized yet. So are you optimistic that this is one where the countries can be held accountable? And, you know, that’s North America, South America. It’s not one place. There are many, many places cutting their trees, you know, all over the world. So, you know, Alice or Antha, what’s your reaction to the deforestation announcement, which can be hopeful, or?

WILLIAMS: Well, I mean, I think that the slew of kind of sector-specific commitments I think in general were just positive. In the specific on the deforestation piece, I think there were a few linked announcements that were quite important. One was the one you mentioned. One was, you know, more than thirty financial institutions that were committing to agree to eliminate their investments in deforestation. And there was additional philanthropic announcements around, you know, historic pledges and support of indigenous peoples and local communities.

And so I tend to think in a certain way the—you know, the philanthropy commitments will be able to be measured because it either gets—you know, it either gets spent or it doesn’t. And we’ve seen, I think, a much higher level of collaboration on that—towards that work. And in addition, one of the things that it underscored to me that was relevant to both the deforestation work and the global methane pledge, you know, at the end of the day the implementation of the work comes down to the country—you know, the national level, and then within countries to the region and local level. And so a lot of implementation of that work is going to be figured out country by country. And that’s certainly where we’ll be measuring progress over the next year, until COP27 in Egypt, but beyond.

ERICKSON: If I could—sorry.

BEINECKE: Oh, Andrew, go ahead. I’m sorry.

ERICKSON: If I could add briefly, I commend this important work on trying to prevent deforestation and supporting indigenous peoples. And I think that’s an example of something that the international community, so to speak, coming together at these large events can try to make good progress on. But I just want to highlight once again that blue carbon may be an even more important issue because, A, it’s insufficiently covered. B, it’s inherently an international issue because, in many cases, no nation has control over these international—these global seabed areas. And yet, their use is adjudicated through the International Seabed Authority in Kingston, Jamacia. So I’m seeing a missing linkage between global efforts to convene and act and what is, in effect, an old-growth forest that is being trawled into releasing significant amounts of carbon, and having its carbon capture ability potentially being severely compromised for the long term. So I’m hoping that can really get up on the agenda in the way that it deserves, which is a tremendous way.

BEINECKE: Could I just turn to you, Antha, for a minute to comment on that? Because the Bloomberg Foundation has hosted conferences on the blue economy and the high-level panel recommendations coming out last year, on the role that oceans could play in mitigating climate. Do you want to just comment on that? I know that’s an area of interest of your team.

WILLIAMS: Yeah. I mean, just to Andrew’s point and the issues around governance, our strong view is that there is enormous progress to be made, and it’s mostly to be made at the country level. You know, the waters that countries themselves control along their coastline are an enormous and rich source of the biodiversity that serves as a big carbon sink. And in our view, we’ve seen a lot of success in mobilizing both national governments and coastal communities to do that kind of protection in a way that, our view is, for the short-term gains that we need to make on this stuff that’s going to move a lot faster than some of the international processes of agreements. So that’s just our view.

I think we’ve seen a lot of progress in those areas, whether it’s, you know, protection of coral reefs, or mangroves, or national-level laws to limit bottom trawling, which has been shown by the science of the last year to be a much bigger source of carbon emissions than we knew or feared. And so some of that combined work to both shape national policy, to get rid of the most destructive practices, to be protective of the investments where we can, and to mobilize the local communities to, you know, protect their waters on their own behalf, which leads to much better enforcement, is where we see the real opportunity.

BEINECKE: Could you each comment on the role of civil society here? There was a huge representation from civil society at the COP. Each of the countries has active civil society groups, and particularly the youth activists who I think were such a significant voice at the COP. What role in these—in, you know, pushing these individual countries to take action and to be held accountable, what role do you see civil society, youth action, raised voices playing in this—you know, over the next year?

HILL: Well, I can start here. I think civil society is going to be very important. The challenge here is political will. And the leaders may say the right words but making sure that they follow through when there is unrest or resistance or entrenched powers who don’t want to see action will be the test. And a couple of things emerged in—at COP26. Inside the blue zone you saw—and with the world leaders—it was approximately 90 percent male, mostly older. Then when you stepped outside you saw tens of thousands of protesters, many of them female and many of them young.

And I think there’s a dynamic here that is underappreciated and certainly came to the fore—was better articulated, I felt, at the COP. The decisionmakers are not the people who are going to suffer the greatest from climate change. And there’s a sense that they’re not sufficiently reacting and addressing the challenge. So that’s where civil society, youth can make it clear that they appreciate the stakes, even if those in charge may not be as—feeling as empowered to act. That they will support action and, indeed, insist on action. So I don’t think the dynamic will drift away. I anticipate that that will grow louder in the coming years.

BEINECKE: Yeah. I think that’s right.

OK, let’s turn it back to Teagan and tee-up some questions that we’ve got from our members.

OPERATOR: We will take our next question from Jennifer McFarlane.

Q: Ah, yes. Thank you all for your comments. I’m Jennifer McFarlane. And I’m also a board member of a carbon sequestration company called Blue Planet Systems.

But I actually wanted to focus—go back to the main important parts to this conversation. I want to talk about the transfers to the lesser developed countries, the 100 billion (dollars) that hasn’t been essentially reached yet. What most encouraging signs did you see coming out of this that there actually may be improved greater action on this front? And particularly moving more towards grants as against loans. Thank you.

BEINECKE: Alice, do you want to take that?

HILL: Well, I didn’t see a huge number of encouraging signs, other than statements that there was regret. But there was—before the COP convened, there was ana agreement led by Germany, as I recall, to make sure that by 2023 the $100 billion would be mobilized annually. There have been greater calls, for example, from the World Bank, the U.N. general secretary, as well as multinational development banks, to try to bring up the share of adaptation funds to be 50/50. That still hasn’t moved significantly, but certainly much greater talk about the need to accomplish that. And the goal of doubling adaptation funds by 2025.

You also saw the EU come forward with $100 million and the United States pledged towards the $100 billion goal. The EU’s pledge was for the adaptation fund. Towards the $100 billion goal, the U.S. pledged 11.4 billion (dollars), which was much larger than anything we’ve done in the past. So incremental steps. But I think this is going to be an open sore for the developing nations. They are feeling these impacts very acutely now. They’re broke from the pandemic. And their ability to borrow is very strained. They face very high interest rates. And the IMF has said that it’s going to look at its special drawing rights. So there are steps underway, but the answer isn’t here yet.

ERICKSON: I think part of the key is it has to be on a politically sustainable basis. And I worry we’re not there in the U.S. in a long-term bipartisan political basis. And the biggest single problem is that there’s concern that China’s not doing its part. And as long as that’s not solved, I don’t think we’re going to be on that track. And these pledges at the national level are likely to be unreliable over time. Hopefully, philanthropic organizations will do a good job.

A brief comment on the youth activists, very important. But it’s context specific in its impact. Note how Greta Thunberg was mercilessly treated on the—in the Chinese-controlled PRC social media space, merely for having the temerity to show that China’s racing to catch up to the U.S. in terms of cumulative carbon impact. So that’s a big problem with China, youth and other activism is, in effect, banned and cordoned off.

But one great area has to do with the deep seabed. And, yes, coastal mangroves and other things are absolutely vital. But the International Seabed Authority is giving out—excuse me—licenses as we speak in the depths of the Pacific in the Clarion-Clipperton Fracture Zone and other areas. This could take off in a significant way. This is truly an issue for the international community where youth activists should have a voice. And I hope we can get that under the attention and just the tabulation that it deserves. I don’t think we’re close to being there yet.

BEINECKE: Thank you.


Q: We will take our last question from Chloe Demrovsky.

Q: Hi, everyone. Happy to be with you all. Thank you for this. I’m Chloe Demrovsky, president and CEO of Disaster Recovery Institute International.

I think Alice will know why I’m asking this question, but I’m curious for your thoughts on some of the future technologies, including the potential for something like artificially altered clouds, as Australia has referred to it, or solar geoengineering, as others might refer to it. Do you think that this is going to create another kind of moral hazard that some accused adaptation in the past? Or are we going to need something like this in order for us to actually make the space to meet the goals of Glasgow? Thanks so much.

WILLIAMS: I can be very quick, because I’ll just echo Andrew’s point that whether it’s on deep seabed mining or solar geoengineering, there are places where we can only move forward on some of the governance questions around those issues with international collaboration in these forums. So super important topic. On the substance, I cannot say that I was in the middle of any significant conversations about the new technologies, including solar geoengineering, at the COP itself.


HILL: I will add that I—at the COP, in my conversations, there was growing discussion of different forms of geoengineering. So we think of climate change having two sides—that is the cut the emissions side to avoid the very worst of heating and the adaptation side to manage that heating which we can no longer avoid. There’s a third side that’s developing which is geoengineering. That includes, for example, something widely discussed, sucking carbon out of the atmosphere to reduce the carbon.

But it also includes what Chloe’s mentioning, solar radiation management, which could be putting sulfur or some kind of—something in the atmosphere to deflect the heat or to keep it from entering the atmosphere, or giant mirrors. And I’ve spent an evening with Sir David King, who runs an entire operation at Cambridge investigating how do we refreeze the Arctic. And the underlying technology is to get more cloud cover to prevent the melting of the Arctic. It’s reported that China is engaging in seeding of clouds, which can bring more rain or more controlled monsoons for them but could have devastating impacts for neighboring areas.

So we’ll see all of this. And it could be from one nation-state. It could be from a billionaire. And it’s something that the national security and global security community needs to be attentive to, because these could carry unintended consequences. And there’s no governance mechanism right now for what these experiments should look like, what should guide them. So it’s a little bit the wild west. And that’s concerning, given the high consequences if one should go awry.

BEINECKE: Well, thank you, Alice, for that. And thank you, Andrew and Antha, for participating in this conversation. We’ve certainly covered a lot of topics. And I can imagine that our—that there are a number of topics that came up in this conversation which can be teed-up for future conversations at the Council. I want to thank all who joined today on this virtual meeting. And just to remind you that the video and transcript of today’s meeting will be available on the CFR website.

So thank you all. Have a good holiday. And onward we go in the climate challenge.


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